18 April 2018 Culture

Diversity and Inclusion at Elastic{ON} 2018

By Kristina Frost

It’s hard to believe that over a month has gone by since we assembled for Elastic{ON} 2018 in San Francisco. This marked our biggest user conference yet, and we ramped up our efforts to make it an event that reflects not only the great technical innovation Elastic continues to deliver in our products, but also our company’s hopes for a more diverse industry and our drive to celebrate those who are using the Elastic Stack to do good out in the wild, wild world.

After a great day at the Django Girls workshop, we proceeded onwards into the events of the conference. Between the Women’s Breakfast, a Birds of a Feather discussion on diversity and inclusion, and sessions by more female speakers than ever before, we had a lot of opportunities to keep the conversations about women in technology going. Here’s what you may have missed:

The Elastic{ON} Women’s Breakfast

Madhura Dudhgaonkar, Head of Search, Data Science, and Machine Learning at Workday, kicked off the Women’s Breakfast with a really brave exploration of how she learned to love to give and receive feedback. Madhura candidly shared how she learned to adjust her own working style to embrace feedback by monitoring her own feelings and evaluating her behavior relative to the feedback’s content. Once she learned to make an unbiased assessment about the feedback, she began to implement tracking and correction, a process which takes patience and the willingness to grow over time.

Madhura also shared her approach to giving good feedback, which includes:

  • Delivering information that is objective and observable (and is hard to deny).
  • Asking the recipient of the feedback whether or not they see the situation the same way, or if there’s additional information or context that might be missing.
  • Being aware that bias may be playing a role and exploring your own motivations.
  • Approaching all conversations with an openness and a willingness to change your mind.

Madhura strongly recommended reading Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone.

Next our own Rashmi Kulkarni, a software engineer on the Elastic QA Team,  shared her experiences as a woman in technology and how she learned to start being an individual driver of change while working to offset the field’s diversity deficit. Rashmi’s number one piece of advice? The power of “Yes.” Even when she’s afraid to try something new, Rashmi always tries to say yes to new experiences. In particular, this has led her to volunteer with local youth organizations to inspire the next generation of technology workers. It’s important to Rashmi that the next generation of women in this industry have role models to look up to. After her session, we talked at length about the increasing need to find workplace flexibility to support volunteerism and family time. At Elastic, we’re fortunate to work at a place that is often hyper-distributed and location-agnostic, and we’ve said that volunteering is so important to us that we now offer volunteer time to our employees to make sure this kind of community engagement can occur.

Our keynote speaker at the breakfast was Tracy Osborn, who really highlighted how we can all learn to be our own best advocates. Tracy talked a lot about the art of asking. Whether we’re asking for a promotion or a new, more challenging assignment, asking for more can be stressful. Here are some of her tips for navigating conversations about salary and progression:

  • Remembering that the worst someone can say is “no.”
  • Do your research on comparative salaries in similar roles.
  • Don’t wait until you’re unhappy to get informed about your career trajectory or your position in negotiations.

Tracy encouraged attendees to build a support network to help navigate their own experiences, and she said that one way she does this is by making one meaningful connection at conferences and networking events. Tracy notes that making the act of networking into a game — the one meaningful connection, or meeting just three people — helps offset her own anxiety and motivates her to keep making new connections.

And she gave us perhaps the most important reminder of all: 99% of people are awesome. And that means that anyone you meet has something incredible to offer you, or something wonderful you can learn from them.

Birds of a Feather: Diversity & Inclusion

Sometimes you just walk into a room and go “Wow! These are my people!” Our Birds of a Feather discussion groups provide an open forum to simply talk to each other about things we care about, whether that’s natural language processing or mental health. Doing a Birds of a Feather session on diversity and inclusion in tech was new for us this year, and probably my favorite event of the conference. We assembled a group of Elastic employees and passionate individuals from our community for an open, candid conversation about how to encourage diversity in our organizations. Some of the suggestions:

  • Be willing to call out elephants in the room as it relates to diversity, and build a culture where it’s assumed that all of these conversations happen with positive intent.
    • Unconscious bias training may offer a valuable resource for companies who are looking to educate their workforce on these topics, since it can be exhausting for women and other minorities to be the ones who expend effort and energy into the education effort.
  • Employee referrals can be great, but they also tend to create more “like me” hires as people source from their own peer groups. If you don’t have diversity already, making diverse hires takes energy and effort and some out-of-the-box thinking.
    • Many of us feel that companies over-index on certain colleges and alumni networks, and they’d be able to retain a more diverse talent pool by being open minded in regards to their education requirements.
    • We talked about how important it is to create smooth re-entry into the tech industry, whether it be after some kind of leave or for people returning to their jobs after a number of months away.
    • We felt that it was important that companies support global diversity.

Increasing Speaker Diversity

One of the things we’re focused on making better is ensuring that speakers at our events reflect a variety of experiences and backgrounds. Shay’s product keynote featured a number of our female leaders: Monica Sarbu (Beats Creator & Ingest Team Lead), Asawari Samant (Director of Product Management), Tanya Bragin (Sr. Director of Product Management), Leah Sutton (VP of HR), and Renuka Gough (Content Architect). We were proud to see great submissions from our community, too: 31% of our external speakers were women, which is more than double last year’s submissions. Here are a few highlights from both Elastic internal speakers as well as community-led talks at the conference:

We hope to continue to thread diversity into everything we do as we take the Elastic{ON} experience on the road. Our very own Andy James, a full-stack developer on an internal engineering team, summed it up in a phrase that continues to be resurrected in Elastic’s own diversity, inclusion, and belonging Slack channel: “We can’t build software for all types of people, if we don’t have all types of people building software.”